Authorised form of nameElton; Charles Sutherland (1900 - 1991)
ForenamesCharles Sutherland
Dates1900 - 1991
Dates and placesBirth:
29 March 1900
01 May 1991

Charles Elton was educated at Liverpool College and Oxford University, from which he graduated in zoology in 1922, and where he subsequently had his entire academic career. Elton's professional goal was to turn natural history into the science of ecology by applying the scientific method to study the lives of animals in their natural habitats and their interactions with the environment. In 1921, while still an undergraduate, he was assistant to Julian Huxley on an expedition to Spitsbergen. Here, he made an ecological survey of Arctic vertebrates, a project he continued on three subsequent Arctic expeditions in 1923, 1924, and 1930. His Arctic experience led to a consultancy with the Hudson's Bay Company, 1926–1931, which enabled him to study fluctuations in the populations of animal species of interest to the fur trade. Later, he undertook similar studies on British mouse and vole populations.

Elton's early career was strongly influenced by Alexander Carr-Saunders, Victor Ernest Shelford and Gordon Hewitt. In 1922 Alexander Carr-Saunders wrote The Population Problem: A Study of Human Evolution where he outlines the influence of overpopulation in humans having cascading effects on plant and animal life around the world.[3] Elton later applied these ideas of population fluctuations to animals. Victor Ernest Shelford wrote Animal Communities in Temperate America in 1913, where he outlines three main principles of ecology, (a) emphasizing the importance of studying the physiology of the organism, rather than the physiology of a specific organ; (b) evaluating the “phenomena of behavior and physiology” in relation to the natural environments; and (c) relating the ecology of plant life to that of animal life.[4] From Gordon Hewitt's 1921 book The Conservation of the Wildlife of Canada, Elton noticed the Canadian Lynx and Snowshoe Hare population cycles, and developed a greater understanding of population fluctuations in Arctic vertebrates with the Hudson's Bay Company.[5]

In 1932, Elton established the Bureau of Animal Population at Oxford, which became a center for the collection of data on fluctuations in animal populations. In the same year, the Journal of Animal Ecology was founded and Elton became its first editor. In 1936, he was appointed reader in animal ecology at the Oxford University and Corpus Christi College elected him a senior research fellow. During the Second World War the Bureau of Animal Population was given the task to find efficient methods for the control of rats, mice and rabbits by the Agricultural Research Council. After the Second World War, Elton started a 20-year survey of animals and their interrelationships on Oxford University's Wytham estate, including animals in meadows, woods and water. After his retirement, he did some studies in tropical America. He held a great interest in nature conservation and problems in management of nature reserves and he was instrumental in establishing the Nature Conservancy Council in 1949.

Royal Society activityMembership:
Election Date:
Darwin Medal 1970
RelationshipsMarried (1) Rose Montague in 1928; (2) Edith Joy Scovell in 1937, a poet.
NCUACS 39/1/93. Papers deposited in the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 1999 vol 45 pp 129-146, plate, by Sir Richard Southwood and J R Clarke
Royal Society codeNA1295
Archives associated with this Fellow
Reference numberTitleDate
EC/1953/08Elton, Charles Sutherland: certificate of election to the Royal Society
NLB/73/361Copy letter from Francis Alexander Towle, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society; to [Charles Sutherland] Elton Esq., University Museum , Oxford30 June 1931
NLB/73/363Copy letter from Francis Alexander Towle, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society; to [Charles Sutherland] Elton Esq., University Museum , Oxford7 July 1931
IM/001298Elton, Charles Sutherlandearly 1950s
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